Many colleges and universities from coast to coast are taking a closer look at sustainability on campus. They are cutting down on their carbon emissions, rethinking purchases, and recycling. However, institutions are less likely to prepare for the impacts of climate change. These climate impacts are not reversible. We asked students across the country to share their experiences with climate change.
Twenty-one months. After 21 monthsBecause of our tireless organizing, Princeton University continues its investment in and partnership with the fossil fuel sector. Despite all this, Princeton University continues to invest in and partner with the fossil fuel industry. over 2,560 Princeton affiliates’ pledging not to donate until divestment happens, the university has done little for the climate beyond create committees that will consider Princeton’s divestment—eventually.
Princeton is known for its leadership in climate change. In 2019, the university releasedA Sustainability Action plan, which sets out the goals for a net-zero campus in 2046. Although these sentiments are admirable they are not a strong statement of leadership on climate change. As internationally renowned climate scientists, the Climate Crisis Advisory GroupAccording to August’s argument, net-zero emissions by the mid-century mark will not be sufficient. Net-zero by 2046 would be too little, too late.
At the same time, Princeton’s campus finds itself facing frequent flash floods, and even a tornado tied to Tropical Storm Ida—all associated with climate change. This is not the front line of climate change in Central New Jersey. Many Princeton students are facing far more severe effects of climate change at home. This can have a real psychological toll.
Young people, like me, are confronted with the reality of how late it may be to fix the mess we’ve inherited. Though our lack of life experience is often used by the Princeton administration as a reason to dismiss the merits of our work, the failure of world “leaders” to lead on climate leaves us fighting for our lives. Although this reality can be overwhelming, many people find it to be the reason they organize.
While decarbonizing campus might take decades, Princeton has the chance to make a difference quickly, end ties and create real change. We don’t need any more committee to “review” our divestment proposal. We simply cannot afford to wait for 21 months. Otherwise, we could end up underwater.
CStudents continue to be terrified by limate change, which is a terrifying threat. I’m a junior at Indiana University and, other than unseasonable temperature snaps, my college experience remains untouched by direct effects of climate change.
Many people fail to see that the most severe effects of the climate crisis are often concentrated on the country’s Western, Easten, and Southern coasts. As the West continues to experience drought and fires, and the East sees water levels rise, the middle of the country has continued to function relatively well.
But if there’s anything many of my peers are concerned about, it’s climate change. In many discussions about our futures, from careers to family plans and even career choices, people consider how many life goals can be achieved in a world where climate change is a dominant force in daily living. We have moved past the questioning stage, and we’ve started to lose a blindly hopeful outlook.
This isn’t to generalize the opinions of all college students, a select portion remain dangerously complacent and unanxious. The changes we are witnessing in our environment are irreversible. Our future is going to be fundamentally altered because of climate change; there’s no debating that. Climate change can often unnecessarily take attention away from other movements fighting for equity. How can we spend all our time fighting other issues when there may not be a sustainable future that will allow us to see the full fruits of societal change?
To me, this misses what is important. All of the fights for justice, no matter how they relate to racial, gendered or climate justice are one. Climate racism must be addressed in the fight against racism. Without properly addressing climate change, the fight to end poverty will not be possible. Climate change is intrinsically linked to all types of activism and must be part of the conversation.
My college just released a new strategic plan for 2022–26. This includes a name and vision change, as well as a new mission and vision. It also includes commitments for reconciliation with Indigenous communities, diversity and flexible learning models. Industry partnerships are also included. It does not include any mention of sustainability.
The word “climate” appears only two times in this comprehensive strategy about what the college is prioritizing over the next five years. Both of those times, it’s used in an introduction to a section about another topic. The college uses “climate” as a buzzword, something to boost its word count. Climate is used to refer broadly to societal issues, before getting into the details of the school’s current issues.
This isn’t to say the school doesn’t do anything to offset the effects of climate change. There is a sustainability office on campus, which pilots programs like conscious buying, campus gardens, composting and recycling. Almost every new building the college has added in the past 20 years has been a “green” building.
But, at its core, my college doesn’t make space for sustainability on campus or in its overall direction as an institution. A student U-Pass, a transit pass that is affordable for students, is not available at this time. However, it offers ample parking on its flagship campuses and makes good cash off of those parking passes.
The only good thing about my college’s lack of movement on climate action is that its inaction leaves room for students to hold it accountable. It might be more difficult to hold the college’s leadership accountable if they made empty promises or announced meaningless initiatives. But since they’ve promised nothing, students have an opportunity to organize and make their voices heard about sustainable practices right now and in the future.
Red River College
From the physical threats it poses to Harvard’s campus—with the Boston area facing from 2.5 to 7.4 feet of sea level rise by 2100—to its impacts on students’ homes, familiesClimate change is a major concern for my university. It affects our futures and our university’s future. It forces me and my peers, as well as myself, to think critically about the unique resources we have available to help climate action. It also reveals the need to hold universities accountable for taking serious climate action. It means moving beyond mere rhetoric. It involves bringing their institutional capacity, and clout, to bear against a fundamentally unsustainable status quo. pushing themTo dismantle fossil fuel ties outside their endowment. pervadeAmong other aspects, this includes key climate and energy policy research.
Facing an unprecedented crisis, we’re organizing in unprecedented ways—and it’s working. We are Harvard. won a major victoryAfter a lengthy process, the university finally made a commitment to stop using fossil fuels. decade of tireless activism. This victory is a testament to the power and potential of student organizing. But we must not stop there. Harvardall its peer institutions move furtherAnd it’s much faster. The failureCOP26 is the most recent international climate conference. It has produced a framework that can reduce dangerous levels of planetary heating along with the crumblingThe Congress and the White House are awaiting urgently needed US climate policies proposals sluggishnessThe Biden administration’s actions on climate have shown that we need strategies that move beyond diplomacy and traditional politics to advance climate action, justice, and equity. College students have always been an integral part of history. played an invaluable roleThere are many strategies that can be used to bring about the end of exploitation, such as divestment. As climate change becomes a more serious threat to campus life, students will continue their climate leadership and challenge those who block a just and sustainable future.
SFlash flood warnings from New York City have caused classes to be cancelled on two occasions so far this semester. My friends and me enjoyed the extra time we had, but the fact that this is one of many irreversible impacts of climate change was a real concern. The rains this fall were described as rare and “record-breaking.” In other words, the weather changes reminded us that we are in a climate crisis and that our city is not prepared for it. This has happened several times this year. subway stations were filled with waterStudents scattered across five boroughs were prevented from getting to campus. Even a part of Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus floodedSeptember
Honestly, as college students, we aren’t sure what we can do anymore. While most college students try to be more environmentally conscious, will they be able to eat vegan tacos? tote bagsOur city from becoming underwater. Despite our best efforts, Amazon holds a stronghold over us. Multiple times per week, I see trucks unloading hundreds upon hundreds of Amazon parcels. I’m the first to admit that I am guilty. It’s just cheaper and faster when I don’t have the time nor patience to shop around elsewhere. Many of my peers share this sentiment.
How important is individual action when institutional changes from universities to corporations are not implemented well and with little transparency? Take recycling, for instance. We’re not even sure how much we’re recycling, as our school’s website simply claims to “recycle as much material as possible” while quoting only one statistic from 2015. Even if we recycle, is that enough to keep us from becoming addicted to consumerism? While most people know they are responsible on an individual basis it is very discouraging that we feel like we don’t have control over climate change, its effects and the efforts to slow down it.
TMy most vivid memory of my first semester of college in California, 2018, was the bonfire-like stench of hallways. The West Coast was ravaged by huge wildfires. The haze in the air was not as bad as the 2020 crimson skies.
As I remained on campus throughout the following summer to conduct research, the university curtailed its cooling system multiple times because it couldn’t cope with unusual heat. We were told that cold air needed to be conserved in high-priority areas such as the hospital. Some students lost research projects that needed to be temperature-controlled. Stanford has since announced it would expand its system “to keep pace with a growing campus and a warming climate.” As a graduate student studying climate change, I see this crisis bleed out of my dissertation and into my daily life.
Stanford has announced a new school in 2020 that will be primarily focused on the environment. climate and sustainability. It would be reasonable to assume that a university that claims it prioritizes climate research, and action, would have stopped using fossil fuels or refused to accept money from the fossil fuel industry for its environmental research. Neither is This is the case. Stanford refuses to follow its peers—including Harvard and Dartmouth—in divesting its $37.8 billion endowment. To the contrary, it seems the university is as cozy as ever with the fossil fuel industry: just a few weeks ago, I was encouraged to apply for a “Chevron Fellowship in Energy,” a $115,000, 18-month fellowship for Stanford PhD students who are selected “with input from Chevron” to fund energy research.
Why Stanford hasn’t divested—and why the university continues to take fossil fuel money to fund its environmental research—absolutely baffles me. What good is climate research if our university refuses take a stand against this industry?
Unless Stanford’s new sustainability school is free of fossil fuel funding—a commitment the current administration refuses to make, despite pressure from students, faculty, and alumni—the university’s words will be seen for what they are: no more than hot air.
ACademia has difficulty putting its money where it is needed. While higher education institutions fund research, faculty, and initiatives that reflect the values of environmental justice, anti-oppression, many endowments remain invested within the industries most responsible. This is changing, however, as many large-name institutions are publicly pledging to divest from the fossil fuel sector. Yet these changes aren’t brought about because a wealthy, gray-haired trustee has a sudden change of heart—it’s thanks to student activism across generations that maintains pressure on campuses for years that the subject of fossil fuel divestment has been brought to the table and seen to its end. However, as many universities are still refusing to budge (like my institution, Northeastern University, which refuses to disentangle its indirect investments from fossil fuels), campuses will remain a hub for students to develop into activists and community organizers as they seek to hold their institutions truly accountable to their “sustainability” claims. I hope that the student-led divestment movements will also become more intersectional as young activists make connections between the violent economies associated with fossil fuel extraction, and the incarceration of people. These are both violent endeavors that can be profitable under racial capitalist racial capitalism. At institutions that claim to be in the business of brightening students’ futures, nothing is more hypocritical than investing in the polluting and violent systems that make our futures so uncertain.
CStudents are now more interested in environmental activism than ever, and you can see it every day in the cafeteria. The university no longer serves meat on Mondays and the majority of its food is vegetarian. It can be difficult to be vegetarian and vegan when those options are in the minority, but the cafeteria at Freie Universität has turned this model on its head. The menu includes 4 percent meat and fish. Seasonal ingredients are used to reduce CO.2The impact of acquiring the produce. This allows students to be more vegetarian and puts them in a better position to consider their environmental impact.
Freie Universität Berlin was the first university in Germany to declare a climate emergency, and that decision was led by student activists. The university has a goal to become climate neutral in 2025. They are currently working to incorporate climate protection into all academic studies. Freie students are integrating the climate crisis into everyday university operations, from food preparation, heating, and paper use. The cafeteria is a reminder of climate change’s impact and a place where people can demonstrate that change can be achieved on a large scale.
Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany